I like to joke with my Junior Ethics class that it is my job as a priest to make sure that none of them ever have fun. As with most jokes, there is some truth in it. Being bad is often fun. Otherwise, everyone would be good wouldn’t they? However, it’s only fun in the short term. In the long term, being bad makes you miserable. So while it may appear that I am trying to keep my students from having fun, in fact, I am trying to teach them what I (and countless other stupid people before me) have learned from experience, namely, that every evil choice we make costs us some of our God-given freedom—and it is precisely “for freedom [that] Christ set us free”.
The truth of this, however, is hard to get our heads around. Ever since Adam’s fall, we have thought of our freedom as the ‘power’ to choose between good and evil. But that power is an illusion because every evil choice makes us a little less free.
Saint Augustine used this riddle to explain the enigma of evil’s fake freedom: “What,” he asked, “was the motive for the very first sin?” [Not the sin of Adam, mind you (we know his motive) but the sin of Lucifer—what was the motive of that very first evil deed?] Bear in mind that Lucifer, in his pre-fallen state was perfectly happy, perfectly content, perfect in every way that a perfect creation can be. Because everything God makes is perfect and good. The answer, reasoned Saint Augustine is that the motive for that very first evil act was…wait for it…nothing! Evil is a vacuum. It’s something that should be there, but isn’t. So that makes sin is a “misdirected good.”
As Saint Thomas Aquinas was fond of pointing out, when people do bad things, they are, in fact, pursuing a lesser good at the expense of a higher one. I like candy. Candy is good. I steal candy so I can taste that goodness—but if I steal that candy from a baby, I lose some of my humanity in the process. And the more babies I steal from, the less human I become.
That’s not a good example. My point is—and I’ll say it again—that with every sin, with every evil choice we make, we actually lose some of our freedom. “So stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” Confess your sins, give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you.”